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Why the Myth of the Meth-Damaged Brain May Hinder Recovery

Dr. Carl Hart's Research Review in Time Magazine
November 21, 2011 - November 22, 2011

Methamphetamine is widely believed to cause brain damage and cognitive impairment in users. But this claim may be wildly overblown, according to a new review of the research.

In 2004, the New York Times ran a story about how meth use eats away brain cells, headlining it this way: "This Is Your Brain on Meth: A 'Forest Fire' of Damage." In 2005, another Times piece about the rise in foster children taken from parents who use meth noted the "particularly potent and destructive nature" of the drug and claimed that "rehabilitation for methamphetamine often takes longer than it does for other drugs." And the authors of a 2002 study on the brain-robbing effects of meth warned, based on their data, that the "national campaign against drugs should incorporate information about the cognitive deficits associated with methamphetamine."

Now reviewers led by Carl Hart, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, have examined more than 40 studies of the effects of methamphetamine, including lab research on short-term effects, brain-imaging data, and cognitive tests done on long-term meth users who had quit.

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